Kauai Snorkeling – Best Spots, Tours, and Cautions

Kauai Snorkeling Beach

Kauai snorkeling is always an exciting adventure. We have snorkeled the whole island, and share below our favorite spots and boat trips.

What’s the snorkeling like? There is free access to nearly every snorkel spot from beaches, as well as the opportunity to swim with big Green Sea Turtles and lots of fish in perfect depths. And in the summer, boat tours along the Na Pali Coast are wonderful. But make sure you read the safety cautions below because snorkeling on Kauai can be a little more dangerous than the other Hawaiian islands.

Looking for where to snorkel in Kauai? Click on each location below, for a full review, description and pictures. Also continue down this page for a Kauai snorkeling video, pictures, and more about what you can expect.

Kauai Snorkeling Guide eBook Cover

Kauai Snorkeling Guide eBook -The sample locations below are just a few from our popular eBook guide. You get:

  • The Best Snorkeling on Kauai
  • Easy Find Directions and Maps
  • 555 Beautiful Pictures

South Shore Locations

Lawai Beach – This popular spot, great for seeing fish, is also called Beach House Beach.

Koloa Landing – From an old boat ramp you can explore reef full of sea life.

Poipu Beach Park – Busy with snorkelers, this pretty beach can be good for beginners.

North Shore Locations

Tunnels – Also known as Makua Beach, this famous spot has had the best area closed to snorkeling.

Hideaways Beach – This secluded snorkeling beach can be a challenge to get to, but it’s worth the trouble.

Na Pali Coast Tours
Kauai offers one of the most scenic snorkel boat tours in the world, the Na Pali Coast. And it takes you to one of the best snorkel spots on the island. We have taken these tours from the north and south sides of the island. In our eBook guide above we share more about what it is like, our preferred boat companies, what season to go and the most desirable place to start from.

Na Pali Coast mountains, from the water.

Get a Better Sense of What to Expect

Watching this Kauai snorkeling video is a great way for you to get a sense for what it is really like. It is from many locations around the island.

What’s Great About Snorkeling on Kauai?

1. It’s Always an Adventure
Snorkeling in Kauai always gets our blood pumping. To be honest, it does not offer the quantity or quality of snorkeling spots of say Maui or the Big Island, although we like it better than Oahu. But what it does offer is adventure, in a way that the other islands don’t.

Snorkelers enjoying a spot in Kauai.

2. Natural Beauty in Abundance
There is no doubt that the natural beauty of this island adds to the enjoyment of the snorkeling. Around every corner, with each changing moment, Kauai is showing off its good looks.

Kalalau Valley and the ocean from on top.

3. Free Snorkeling at World Class Beaches
We love to snorkel from beaches, at our own leisure. And Kauai delivers. Nearly all the snorkeling on Kauai is reached from shore.

Rainbow over a sandy beach on Kauai.

4. Snorkel With BIG Sea Turtles
We always seem to find sea turtles on Kauai, and more often than not they are the biggest ones we have ever seen. With their large tails, and slow graceful swimming, these giants almost seem like dinosaurs.

Green Sea Turtle at the surface, with a white sandy bottom, seen when snorkeling Kauai.

5. Like Fish? No Problem
There are a handful of locations on Kauai where you can get up close and personal with a lot of fish, both on the north and south side of the island.

Big school of Convict Tang and other tropical fish we saw while snorkeling Kauai.

Hawaii Requires Reef Safe Sunscreen

We suggest buying this reef safe sunscreen, that we have tested, before you go. Or better yet, limit how much you use by wearing rash guards instead.

Kauai Snorkeling Safety Tips

Strong Currents and Reef Cuts
Look at our Kauai snorkeling map below to see how all of the snorkel areas are on the south, north and east sides of the island. This is unlike Maui and the Big Island where most of the snorkel sites are on the more protected western side of the island. Since the spots are more exposed to the prevalent trade-winds and waves, stronger ocean currents are common in Kauai.

Kauai snorkeling map.
Barrier reef water flow and channels to watch for when snorkeling Kauai.

And while much of the snorkeling is behind fairly protective barrier reefs, the currents inside these areas flow out of cuts in the reef back out to sea. So you must be cautious not to be caught up in that outflow.

For example, look at the picture of the very popular Ke’e Beach at right. Notice the big channel in front of the beach that is darker blue? The waves come over the shallower reef farther up the beach and all that water exits out that channel. If you have not yet read our safety tips page about currents you can here.

Long and Steep Hikes
Kauai is a mountainous island, and the way you get to a handful of the better snorkeling beaches is by hiking down (and back up) some steep and often slippery and long trails.

If you find this Kauai snorkeling information helpful, you will love our free monthly snorkeling newsletter.

Kauai Travel Tips

When to Go for Snorkeling

Because the snorkeling on Kauai is mostly exposed, it is more challenging to choose when to go for the best snorkeling conditions. The north shore, where many of the snorkeling spots are, is often inaccessible in the winter months because of high swell, the same swell that makes Oahu a surfing mecca in the winter. But the south shore can get a swell in the summer months. Read more details about the snorkeling conditions on our when to snorkel Hawaii page, including air and water temperatures, swell, wind, rain, hurricane season, and tourist high seasons.

Farmlands and mountains on Kauai.

Water and Weather Conditions

Waterfalls on the steep mountains of Kauai.

Kauai is so beautiful because it is one of the rainiest places on earth. But as you can imagine all that rain can impact your snorkeling. Many times we have hiked to a beach in the rain, or had a torrential rain squall and winds suddenly come across us in the water. So staying flexible with your plans is essential for a fun Kauai snorkeling trip.

Water temperatures in Kauai vary a bit throughout the year. You can see a chart of monthly average water temperatures in Kauai on this page. We prefer to snorkel when the water is near 80°F.

If you want to have good snorkeling you need low winds and no waves. You can find a north shore wind forecast for Anini here and a south shore wind forecast for Poipu and Koloa here. Waves, also known as swell or surf, need to be low for snorkeling. You can see a north shore swell forecast for Hanalei Bay here, and a south shore swell forecast for Poipu here.

Choose your daily snorkeling spot according to the wind and swell forecasts above, but please note these websites were created for the folks who want high winds (wind and kite surfers) and high swells (surfers). As a snorkeler you want low winds and low swell.

Rainy season in Hawaii is between October and April and hurricane season goes from June to November, both of which affect Kauai snorkeling conditions. Hurricanes and tropical storms affect the islands primarily in July, August, and September. Plan your trip as you will and consider trip insurance if traveling in hurricane season.

Where to Stay for Kauai Snorkeling

It can be nice to plan where you are staying so that you don’t have to go far to get to the snorkel spots. And if the rain is not your thing on vacation, you should plan to stay on the sunnier part of the island. Our Kauai snorkeling accommodations page gives you information to help you decide where is best for you to stay.

Suggestions and Questions From Other Snorkelers


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